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February 2005 Marketing Archives

Friday, February 04, 2005

Interview: Thunderstone VP Doran Howitt

A few weeks ago I put up a post about the Google Small Business Search Appliance. I listed it's pros and cons and thought Google had come up with a pretty decent product. After that post I was contacted by Doran Howitt, the VP of Marketing at Thunderstone. Doran told me about the Thunderstone Search Appliance SBE his company had recently launched. He pointed to an eWeek head to head comparison of the Thunderstone search appliance and Google's search appliance. The review is pretty good but I thought you deserved a bit more of that "personal touch" so I conducted an interview with Doran. Enjoy!Thunderstone's Small Business Edition Search Appliance

Exclusive Interview With Doran Howitt of Thunderstone

Jason: What does the "SBE" stand for in the Thunderstone Search Appliance?
Doran: "Small Business Edition". That's to differentiate it from our "enterprise" editions.

Jason: Do you allow your customers to expose the search results of your search appliance to the internet or is it strictly for use on internal corporate intranets?
Doran: Yes, either. In addition, we allow its use for *indexing* other web sites out on the internet. You can serve those search results either to the public or just for your internal use.

Jason: What Thunderstone software is embedded in the Search Appliance?
Doran: The appliance runs on top of our TEXIS software. Texis is our flagship product. It combines the features of a search engine and relational database. Texis is actually an entire application development suite for text-intensive or search-intensive applications.

Jason: What adjustments, if any, can users make to the algorithm(s) that determine the importance of a particular document for a particular query?
Doran: Users can set the rank knobs selectively for each search. They also can turn on or off the thesaurus, pattern matching, proximity, and stemming. That's if the administrator has turned those things on -- those are settings! And of course there is the + and - logic operators, phrases, and wild cards. For the geeks, you can search with a regular expression.

Jason: Is linking part of the built in ranking algorithm?
Doran: That information is captured for tracking and reporting. As of today we're not using it in ranking. The reason is that link weighting is not useful in most intra-net situations or within a single web site. It only helps in the context of a very broad web index, where links created by a huge number of people provide a kind of popularity measure. We would add linkages as a ranking feature if customers requested it, but so far they haven't.

Jason: Your FAQ page says the appliance can index data stored in relational databases like SQL Server, MySQL and Oracle but do you point it at a specific table(s) or can you tell it to only index the results of a particular query?
Doran: In the underlying Texis software, you actually point it at a table. That's not yet enabled in the appliance, mainly because in most situations we've seen, the appliance can get at all the dynamic content by HTTP. It can submit queries as needed. But we'll probably add direct database indexing in the next major release, because certainly there are situations where it would be useful.

Jason: How long does it take to set up the appliance from opening the box to having it online and indexing documents?
Doran: Setup and configuration should be 20 minutes or so. It's mainly a matter of pointing the crawler at the desired data. Although you might want spend a little more time prettying up the results page HTML! If you have a somewhat complicated web structure, where you only want some things indexed and not others, you would spend some more time defining the exclusion and inclusion rules.

Jason: What kind of support is involved / necessary from Thunderstone in order to get the box up and running?
Doran: We usually ask for the IP settings before shipping it, so that you can just plug in the ethernet and start going through the admin menus from a browser. In case of any problem we can remotely diagnose it. Of course some customers like to be talked through the initial configurations, and we're happy to do that. If you'll be indexing a public web site, usually we'll actually crawl it before we ship the box, so that when you plug it in, it's already to serve search results, and the updating will proceed in background.

Jason: Architecture: What's the operating system, amount of ram, processor speed / type, and hard disk size / arrangement on each of the appliances?
Doran: It's Linux and Intel on the inside. But the OS isn't exposed to the Appliance customer. The whole idea of an appliance is that you don't have to worry about software. Anyone who wants to get at the product at that level, can license the software without our box! As to Appliance memory, etc., those will vary depending on the capacity that you buy. The low end box will have 1GB and 40GB disk. That's all you need to index 50,000 documents or web pages.

Jason: What language is the search engine written in?
Doran: The core Texis software is written in C. The crawler application is written in our Texis Web Script, which is a compiled high-level language similar to PHP.

Jason: What are the 5 ranking knobs the user can adjust?
Doran: Closeness of query words to the beginning of a document; order of occurrence of the query words; proximity (closeness) of query words to each other within a record; rarity of query words in each document; and rarity of query words in the whole index.

Jason: What file type has been the most difficult to index from a programmatic standpoint? Flash files, video files, applets?
Doran: Not any of those. We index text and links found in any Flash file. Also text such as captions within video or graphics. Applets we see as just another frame with some JavaScript, so no problem there -- the Appliance executes the JavaScript and indexes everything found in the file. The thing that's occasionally troublesome is Lotus Notes with Domino. That tends to have a lot of different views of the same data, and web pages that are near duplicates, but different enough to confuse our duplicate detector. In the end, it typically takes some trial and error to get the exclusion settings right for Notes data.

Jason: What vertical market has required the most tuning / tweaking to your ranking algorithm on the software side?
Doran: An interesting example that we've seen is news publishing. Newspaper articles tend to have the most important material close to the beginning, so in a newspaper search application, you would give "lead bias" factor more weight. Magazine articles tend to start with an anecdote, which can actually be misleading as to what the rest of the article is about. So in a magazine archive, you'd crank that factor down.

Jason: Why is this application better for small businesses and organizations than the Google small business appliance?
Doran: Our product differs from Google's in a some key respects. One is that we allow our customers to index third-party information, that is, material you don't own, which may be on any web sites out on the internet. Google prohibits that, I guess because they don't want customers competing with their core business. Another key difference is that Thunderstone optionally licenses the underlying software. We even give out the crawler application source code. You can hack it up, create extensions, or tie it in with a larger set of applications. We'll even take back an appliance as trade-in on a software license! The software is available on all major Unix platforms, and Windows.

Interview: Thunderstone VP Doran Howitt By Jason Dowdell at 11:58 AM
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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Crack Google AdWords Get 100 Million Dollars

So some billionaire has offered $100 million to the first person that can crack the Google AdWords algorithm... sounds a bit fishy to me and I'd like an explanation of the story. Sounds more like a viral marketing campaign to me but I guess that's whey viral campaigns work, you never know. Here's a clip from the original post in the Silicon Valley Watcher.

"For several months now I've been troubled by a nagging and unpleasant thought that there is a potentially large vulnerability in Google's Adwords business model. I mentioned it for the first time the other day to a couple of friends and they urged me that I should publish it and not sit on it because it is better to get it out earlier than later.

If there is a problem with the business model then it can be dealt with while there are still mostly insiders holding the stock rather than Joe Public.

Okay, this is it:
A billionaire has arranged to give $100m to the first person that clicks on a special link that looks like a Google text ad."
by Tom Foremski
Anyone have a clue about the validity of this or any real sources on the story?

Crack Google AdWords Get 100 Million Dollars By Jason Dowdell at 05:59 PM
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How old are you now?

Happy Birthday Jason!!! You ROCK!!!

How old are you now? By shannon dowdell at 05:09 PM
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Yahoo YQ Contextual Search Rocks

The new Yahoo contextual search feature [dubbed Y!Q] rocks! It's like vivisimo without all the annoying crap getting in the way of your search and there's no flash to bog down your pc. Clean and simple interface that doesn't require any downloads and allows you to drill down into search results in an easy to use manner.Yahoo Contextual Search Snapshot

Yahoo Y!Q Enhancement Requests
One feature request I'd like to see is the ability to uncheck multiple "related searches" at the same time so I can save time. I would rather uncheck all the ones I don't want and then hit 'search again' rather than wait for the page to refresh each time I uncheck a box. Other than that it's pretty sweet.

Will I Switch From Google To Y!Q?
Perhaps... seriously. It's that good. I think Google needs to implement something similar in short order. I don't care what spin they put on it so it doesn't look like they're copying Yahoo but they better do something soon because this Yahoo feature has the ability to convert Google's loyal followers like the Pied Piper!

Also, I think it's funny that Yahoo's taking a page out of Google's branding book by releasing an app that's in beta to the public. We're seeing more and more of this these days and I think it's good as long as it's not on mission critical applications. It's just funny though because Google's following Yahoo's business development plan like they're kissing cousins. I think I'll follow that statement up with a more in-depth explanation in a later post.

Minor Branding Annoyance
I would like to see something different than Y!Q as the name of this feature. Call it YQ or something that doesn't have a special character "!" in it. Makes it confusing to say and loses the immediate pop of someone glancing at it and immediately understanding the inherent message. I think someone in development tried to do the Yahoo marketing department's job on this one or something.

Yahoo YQ Contextual Search Rocks By Jason Dowdell at 03:52 PM
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Google Adds Local Tab To Homepage

So Google changed their homepage again, they added the "Local" tab to the search interface. I guess we should expect to see some press come in about this any minute now.

"No longer will users need to go to the somewhat buried, nor will local results come up irregularly and, from a user point of view, serendipitously when geographic modifiers are input as part of a search on This should result in an immediate traffic spike to Google Local."

via Greg Sterling

Google Adds Local Tab To Homepage By Jason Dowdell at 01:04 PM
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International Search Engine Usage Trend

In another story from HitsLink... International Search Engine Referrals Out Pace Domestic

"Google continues its dominance as the top search engine for organic and sponsored search engine referrals in the US and abroad. While Non U.S. Search engine traffic is still less than 20% of the total world wide traffic for these engines, their relative increase in growth out paces that of their domestic counterparts. For example, in December Google UK represented 6.15% of total referrals and surged to 8.4% in January. This represents over a 2% increase in referral market share."

Top Search Engine Traffic referrals are as follows:

Search Engine


Non U.S.




Yahoo! Websites












Ask Jeeves



Alta Vista



Google's International Dominance
Interesting figure here is the 15.07% Google as for Non US traffic versus it's next closest competitor [Yahoo] with 1.45%. Google has more than 10x the marketshare of Non US traffic than Yahoo, that's amazing. Especially since over 30% of Yahoo's revenues are from International business.

International Search Engine Usage Trend By Jason Dowdell at 10:37 AM
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Firefox MarketShare Still Increasing

I received an email from NetApplications this am with a blurb about the browser wars. Firefox is contiuing to gain marketshare on ie.

"Browser Wars
The Firefox browser continues its gain on IE as the browser of choise rising to 5.59% market share up from 4.64% in December. Firefox gain is Microsofts loss who finished up at 89.44%. Microsoft's market share is down from 90.31%. Most other browsers maintained a steady and loyal base."

Wonder what threshold number Microsoft has in place before it will launch a retaliatory campaign. Should be interesting to see when they decide to do something about Firefox.

Firefox MarketShare Still Increasing By Jason Dowdell at 10:24 AM
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Marketing Conference Mashup

You'd think they'd realize their target audiences can't be in 3 places at the same time, haha, event planners... gotta love em.

"The online marketing conference market is hotting up, with a train wreck of a week in store for New York City's Advertising Week. MediaPost's new OMMA conference was already scheduled for the week, running over the toes of long-time player iMedia, and now the IAB and AdWeek are introducing a third major conference for the very same week."
via MarketingVox

Marketing Conference Mashup By Jason Dowdell at 11:25 AM
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Gateway Technologies

Gateway technologies entice curious onlookers who are afraid of the ramifications of using or purchasing new technology because of the possible side effects of doing so [just like gateway drugs]. They're usually smaller both in size and cost to their big brother counterparts and this "smallness" is the major enabling factor that gets new users to try them. But once the curious onlooker takes his first hit of the technology he's hooked and wants more.

Case in point, Apple.
With their new Mac Mini their marketing department accomplished two major feats at the same time.
  1. Decreased the size of the machine so it's not as big and looming - psychologically meaning there is little impact to the users environment since the machine is so small and quiet.
  2. Decreased the cost to own the machine by pricing it at $499.
Those two items will entice people like myself to purchase them because I'm not putting out a lot of money and the machine isn't going to take up much space on my work area. So even if I hate it I can still live with it without it taunting me every day because of it doesn't have an enormous presence in my environment. So if I like the machine and it outperforms my Windows based machines then I'd definitely consider purchasing a larger more powerful model. But if I don't like it then it's really no big deal because now I just have a small machine that looks cute and Shannon will still like it even if I don't.

Example 2: iPod Shuffle
Same song and dance as above. They introduced a low cost item with "flavors" of the functionality of it's big brother, the iPod, but without all the costs associated with it. So now people afraid of buying an expensive iPod and not knowing if they'll like it can spend $99 and try the iPod Shuffle. If they like it then they can always buy the iPod and another user is created.

My Predictions
We'll be seeing lots more in the way of small form factors and low prices enticing folks to use their "gateway technology" products. I chose to look at Apple because of the amount of press their new products are getting and knowing it's something everyone can relate to, even those who aren't already users.

Gateway Technologies By Jason Dowdell at 11:05 AM
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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Laptop Use Increased While Watching TV

Well, I don't have a study to that proves my theory [more people are using their laptops while watching tv] but I know it's true in my house. Both Shannon and I frequently use our laptops while the television is on. Our wireless home network makes this possible. Shannon can update her blog and check email and I can work / research / blog while the tele's on.

I wanted to point out the laptop use while watching tv trend out because MediaPost released some info today about multitasking while watching tv. But they didn't include anything about using a laptop via a wifi connection to surf the net. I think that's the biggest one of all and I don't think the study even checked for it.

  • 41% of primetime viewers turn on the TV to watch a specific show "most of the time"

  • 45% of primetime TV viewers are watching TV by themselves, versus 31% a decade ago*

  • 47 percent of viewers switch channels during some part of a program. Most commonly because a program ends or to skip a commercial as compared to 33 percent in 1994.

  • The proportion of viewers doing other things, such as talking, snacking or reading while watching primetime TV, has increased slightly since 1994, from 67% to 75%.

  • One third of primetime viewers watch primetime TV out of their homes at least once a week, most commonly at friends' or relatives' homes.

  • 47% percent of the respondents believe that primetime advertising is better than other daypart advertising at making them aware of new products.

  • Videogame use during primetime increased from 1 percent to 6 percent in the past ten years.

Come on guys, when are the researchers going to start asking the right questions? Huh, please tell me! The study was conducted by Knowledge Networks and was released by Dan Stanton, their Director of Marketing Communications.

Laptop Use Increased While Watching TV By Jason Dowdell at 10:58 AM
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February 2005 Week 2 »

  • Week 1 (10 entries) February 1-5
  • Week 2 (17 entries) February 6-12
  • Week 3 (9 entries) February 13-19
  • Week 4 (8 entries) February 20-26
  • Week 5 (0 entries) February 27-28

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